National Evaluation of Correctional Education
In support of the Second Chance Act of 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) awarded a cooperative agreement to the RAND Corporation to evaluate and improve educational methods for incarcerated adults and juveniles. The RAND Corporation—a nationally recognized non-partisan, non-profit public policy think tank— conducted this study in partnership with the Correctional Education Association (CEA), a non-profit professional association serving educators and administrators who provide services to students in correctional settings. The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) served as a project advisor.
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Large states cut spending on prison education programs by an average of 10 percent between the 2009 and 2012 fiscal years, while medium-sized states cut spending by 20 percent. While the drop appears to have resulted from budget cuts prompted by the economic downturn, evidence suggests that the curtailment of prison education could increase prison system costs in the longer term.
Inmates who participate in correctional education programs have a 43 percent lower odds of returning to prison than those who do not. Employment after release is 13 percent higher among prisoners who participated in either academic or vocational education programs than those who did not.
The study's primary goals were to:
- Examine the changing landscape in which educational programs are provided to incarcerated adults and juveniles.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of correctional education programs.
- Identify innovative strategies that show promise in educating incarcerated adults and juveniles within a changing correctional environment.
To address these aims, RAND undertook an array of research activities, including a systematic literature review and meta-analysis of primary research on correctional education programs for incarcerated adults, a 2013 survey of state correctional education directors, and an in-depth review of the literature for correctional education programs for juveniles. The project has produced a series of publications that:
- Present the results of a meta-analysis about the effectiveness—and cost-effectiveness—of correctional education programs in reducing recidivism and improving post-release employment outcomes for incarcerated adults
- Highlight key findings from the literature on the effectiveness of correctional educational programs for juveniles
- Present the results of a 2013 survey of correctional education directors summarizing what correctional education looks like today and describing the changing landscape for these programs, including the impact of the 2008 recession on these programs
- Provide recommendations to improve our understanding of the effectiveness and role of correctional education programs, as well as a roadmap for building on the gains made to date in educating incarcerated individuals to improve their chances of success upon release.
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